The Darkness Within

Posted by on October 28, 2001 under Sermons

It is distinctly possible that every adult in this audience and most of the teens in this audience all used a similar object this morning. In fact, it is distinctly possibility that all adults and most teens use this similar object every morning. In fact, we all use this object so commonly that we rarely notice it. The only time we think about this object is when no one has one. When we have it, we never think about it. When we do not have it, we really miss it.

I expect some of you are thinking, “No way! Many of us might use something similar, but nothing is used by all of us.” How many mirrors do you have in your house? Do any of you have a bath room sink or a dressing area that does not have a mirror? Is there ever a day in your life when you do not look in a mirror?

The probability is high that you have some very good mirrors in your home. If you want to make a room appear larger, use some mirrors. If you want to brighten up an area, use some mirrors. Good mirrors are incredible in the way they reflect light. Mirrors literally can destroy darkness. But, regardless of the quality of the mirror, it only reflects light. A mirror is never the source of light.

  1. I want us to read together a number of passages on light, and I want us to make the connection scripture makes between light and mirrors.
    1. Read with me these scriptures.
      1. First, note God is the source of all light, not the mirror but the source.
        James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
        1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
      2. Second, note that Jesus is our light because we see God through him.
        John 1:4,5 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
        John 1:9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
        John 8:12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
      3. Third, note that Christians reflect Jesus’ light into our world so through us people see Jesus and through Jesus people see God.
        Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
        Ephesians 5:6-14 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
    2. So you say to me, “Let me get this straight:
      1. “God is the source of light.
      2. “Jesus as our light reflects God to us.
      3. “If we are Christians, we reflect Jesus and through Jesus people see God.
      4. “Are you not just stating your opinion?”
    3. May we allow Paul to verify that is precisely the situation. Consider 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.
      So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
      1. The Christians in Corinth had many problems.
      2. One reason they had problems was this: they exalted certain people.
      3. They exalted these people because they did not understand the roles of God and Christ.
      4. Paul explained that in the matter of salvation everything, including spiritual teachers like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas existed for their benefit; and they existed for Christ’s benefit, and Christ existed for God’s benefit.

  2. The simple, immediate point I want you to see and understand is this: if you are a Christian, you are a mirror to reflect Jesus Christ.
    1. I want us to ask two extremely important questions and to understand the answers.
      1. Question # 1: Why does God’s light shine through Jesus?
      2. The answer given in the verses we read is consistent: the light shines to destroy darkness.
      3. Question # 2: The darkness where? The darkness “out yonder” or the darkness inside of us.
        1. I think most of us would quickly say both.
        2. God wants to destroy the darkness out there and the darkness inside us.
        3. Which darkness do you try to destroy?
        4. May I make an observation that each of us needs to think about very seriously: we will never effectively destroy the darkness outside us until we are serious about destroying the darkness inside us.
    2. As amazing as a mirror is in reflecting light, that mirror reflects absolutely nothing if there is no light.
      1. When a good mirror reflects an intense source of light, it can blind you–never look into a mirror that is reflecting the direct rays of the sun.
      2. Take that same good mirror outside on a pitch-black night that is completely overcast.
        1. In the darkness lay the mirror on the ground, back up two or three steps, and attempt (in the dark) a complete turn.
        2. Then find the mirror; if you find it, it will be by feeling because there will be absolutely no light to reflect.
        3. That mirror is never the source of light; it can only reflect light.
    3. If we are Christians, we are never the source of light; we can only reflect light.
      1. We can only reflect light to the degree that we let Jesus shine through our lives.
      2. We can reflect light only to the degree that we allow Jesus to destroy the darkness within our own lives.
      3. Several things cause me to be very afraid for us.
        1. Some of us are not even aware that there is darkness inside of us to fight–we allow the darkness of evil to exist inside of us without opposition.
        2. Some of us know there is darkness inside us, but we have decided if we can hide that darkness from “the right people” it is perfectly okay to keep it.
        3. Some of us have concluded our darkness is okay, that if other people accept us they will just have to accept and get used to our darkness.
        4. Some of us are so busy opposing the darkness “out there” we never take time to confront the darkness inside.
    4. “What are you talking about?” Let me illustrate clearly what I am saying.
      1. Some of us Christians have our list of big, horrible sins that as black, black darkness are absolutely outrageous.
        1. This list might include things like prostitution, murder, violence, physical abuse, obvious addictions, promiscuous conduct, thievery–things such as those; such things are black, black, black darkness.
        2. But there are other things that we might classify as undesirable, but we would hesitate to say they were darkness, and we surely would not say they were black, black, black darkness.
        3. “What things?” Matters such as greed, deceit, prolonged anger, ungodly words, bitterness, slander, gossip, indulging sexual desires, drunkenness, cheating.
        4. If you are really concerned about letting Jesus’ light destroy the darkness inside, see which of those lists are resisted the most in the epistles.

  3. A few days ago Brad received an e-mail I want to share with you. No confidentiality has been violated, and no, I do not read Brad’s e-mail. I do not know who sent this e-mail and have made no effort to find out. Brad received permission from the person for me to share it with you. All I know about the person is this: it is a teenager above 15 years old. This teenager has attended this congregation all his or her life.
    1. This is the message:
      “Okay I know I said I was going to try to come by this week … but I can’t. I have tried to make room but I am booked all week it seems … ah … I feel like I am about to fall into a bottomless pit and I don’t think I am going to be able to get out … ever.
      How in the world am I going to get out of this messy room when I don’t even know whose room this is anyways. How will I know even where everything goes and goes precisely? I am scared of getting yelled at from someone for doing the job wrong let alone just the job. I do not know that I can clean another room besides the room I am in right now … but how do I get to that room when I can’t even see the door to this room I am in … I am confused again and I don’t know where to begin … the fog had fallen and the dew is setting … the temperature is dropping and hearts are getting colder as well … I don’t know where mine belongs. I don’t know where to store it … who to give it to or whatnot.
      I don’t know if you understood that but I hope you do … later.”
      1. I doubt any teenager here above 15 has any difficulty understanding that letter.
      2. I am confident that a number of adults honestly would ask, “What was that teenager saying?”
    2. I want to share with you an insight, not a statement of confrontation or an argumentative statement, but an insight.
      1. We as adults are grieved deeply because so many of our teenagers leave the church when they become adults.
      2. Those of us who still have children at home are terrified that our children might decide to do the same thing in the years ahead.
      3. My insight: our children do not see us using the light God gives through Jesus to fight the darkness inside ourselves.
      4. We have focused so much energy on fighting the “darkness out yonder” that we individually do not even look at the darkness within ourselves.
      5. When something forces us to peek at the darkness in our own lives, we are far more likely to justify the darkness than we are to use Jesus’ light to attack the darkness inside.
      6. And our children see it and know it; they hear us tell everybody else how to fight the darkness out yonder; and they see us unable to shine the light on our own personal darkness.
      7. So when they confront darkness in their own lives, they have absolutely no idea of how to fight it, and the church as they know it suddenly becomes very irrelevant in the battle against personal darkness.

Some of you are a source of great personal joy and encouragement. Some of you understand that the first battlefield in the war between good and evil is the battlefield of the darkness inside self. Some of you understand that the only way to fight the darkness inside is with the light of Jesus. Some of you realize that to become lights to the world, we must constantly fight the darkness within. We are mirrors who reflect Jesus Christ. If we do not fight the darkness within, our mirrors have nothing to reflect. When we use the light to fight our own darkness, we shine Jesus’ light in our world as well as in ourselves.

Is Faith in God an Asset?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Recently Brad and I read an article with a challenging illustration. It noted what many who teach about God observe: people who are not Christians often misunderstand us. [I would also observe that many in the church do not understand what they hear.] That writer said he attempted to “see” us through the eyes of an outsider observing us as we “drive by” his or her life. The writer compared what he saw to a rusty car moving in jerks as it spewed the odor and smoke of burning oil. We inside the car talk about the smooth ride. Observers outside the car wonder if we ever look at ourselves.

The article was not negative, just factual. The problem is OLD. When I was a boy many years ago, adults talked about the same situation. They talked about “seeing ourselves as others see us.”

The objective is not to deceive or create false impressions. Yet, this is factual: others often cannot see God because they cannot see past us. Others often do not understand what we say about God because they do not understand what we say or do.

We take pride in distinctive worship practices, but often our everyday behavior resembles people who have little knowledge of God. We use our language in our writings, sermons, and classes as we talk to ourselves. We seldom realize someone who is not a part of us does not understand us. When words or concepts are used to connect to their minds, we get upset at our own speaker because he or she is not using our language.

If you think we do not confuse those observing us from outside “the car” as we drive by, consider our present national crisis. This is an extremely complex moment in American history. I certainly do not have the answers. My point is simple: do we confuse others “who are not a part of us”?

Terrorists injected fear into our lives. For most of us, this is our first experience with the danger of uncertainty. Before September 11 we asked ourselves the question in hundreds of ways, “What would Jesus do?” After September 11 many who asked that question were for bombing [as long as it took] to destroy the terrorists. Are God’s values for humanity relevant only if we have peace in our lifestyle? In your understanding, what eternal realities confront those who die?

Recently I heard the question, “How can Christians who oppose abortion in this country think that widespread death is the answer in another country?” If we disregard the selfishness factor and the self-interest factor, that immediately is a complex question. Suddenly “them” issues are “me” issues.

What do our attitudes toward the current crisis say to others about our God?

Thanks to those who pray for our enemies in our public prayers. I appreciate your attitude and your prayers.

Christian Community: Relating to Differing Children

Posted by on October 21, 2001 under Sermons

Joyce and I have three children. We laughingly say our children are so different people would not believe they had the same parents. They have been different since they were born. Our oldest son wanted to please. His feelings were obvious. How other people felt about him mattered. Emotional reactions were common. Our middle son was quite independent. He did not show emotions. He was very much his own person, very much in control of himself. He worked hard. He set goals. He met his goals. Our youngest, a daughter, was a people person. She was always around people. She was very social minded.

Though as children they were very different, we loved each of them. Because we loved each of them, we dealt with them as individuals. Though with each of them we functioned on the same principles of love, we communicated our love to each child differently. Though we functioned on the same principles of fairness with each of them, we communicated our fairness to each child differently. Though we functioned on the same principles of encouragement and responsibility with each of them, we communicated those principles of encouragement and responsibility to each child differently.

Let me give you specific examples. I drove an o-l-d Ford pickup truck. It had way over 100,000 miles on it when I bought it. That truck served very pragmatic purposes. One of those purposes was providing me “in town” transportation. It provided only “in town” transportation because I did not trust it out of town.

Occasionally it was necessary for me to take one of them to school. The boys made no complaints when they had to ride to school in the truck. But, if it was our daughter, a truck ride to school was embarrassing. She would plead with me to let her out two blocks from the school so no one would see her riding in our very old pick up truck.

This has been our practice for buying cars: buy it, take care of it, and drive it until it is unreliable. In the course of our married life, we have owned and driven each travel vehicle for about ten years. The first car we bought when we returned from the mission field was driven until it had almost no trade in value. So when we replaced it, we kept it.

Our children did not have cars to drive in high school. With the exception of special circumstances for a few semesters, they did not have cars in college. When Jon was a senior in high school, he was the only senior who rode a school bus. When Kevin was a senior in high school, he was the only senior who rode a school bus.

When Anita was a senior in high school, our family schedule was extremely hectic. To us it made sense for her to drive the old car with no real trade in value to school. Jon and Kevin, who were no longer at home, protested. Anita bought a bumper sticker: “Make My Day: Steal This Car.”

My point is simple: loving parents treat each children differently. To accomplish love’s objectives in each child, parents must relate to children as the individuals they are.

  1. As I challenge you to think, I ask you to listen in my context.
    1. I am specifically speaking of men and women who are Christians, who are in Jesus Christ, who are cleansed of evil by Jesus’ blood.
    2. I am speaking in the same context of the past two Sunday evenings.
      1. We focused on the fact that for hundreds of years one way people worshipped was by eating a sacred meal.
      2. We focused on the fact that both Jews and idol worshippers often ate a meal as they worshipped through animal sacrifices.
      3. We focused on the fact that most men and women who became Christians in New Testament times previously participated in worship by eating a meal.
      4. We focused on the fact that worship meals created confusion and crisis among Christians in the first century.
        1. Some Christians thought they should do whatever they considered okay.
        2. Some Christians thought some things could be done and some things could not done.
        3. Some Christians thought all Christians should become vegetarians and give up eating meat.

  2. God interacts with his children individually; He relates to and understands each child as an individual.
    1. Most of us are quite comfortable with that understanding when it comes to human parents and their children.
      1. We understand that each child born into our family is a unique individual.
      2. We understand that our principles must not change, but that we must relate to each child as an individual as we teach those principles.
      3. We understand that even though each child is an individual, they need to learn to respect each other. Differences do not justify disrespect.
      4. We understand the need to help them learn how to encourage each other.
      5. Even though each child is different, we are still the parents of all our children and love each of them–they do not have to be identical to receive our love.

    2. While we are quite comfortable with those truths in regard to human parents and their children, we do a poor job of understanding those truths in regard to our divine Father and His children.
      1. Paul clearly taught that God relates to His children individually.
      2. The challenge is to get us to relate to each other as God relates to each of us.
      3. We are the ones who try to make clones out of all Christians.
      4. We have not understood that is not and never was God’s objective.
      5. The truth that God relates to and accepts each of His children as individuals is powerfully stressed in Romans 14 and the crises created by sacred meals.

  3. Let’s begin by considering the context of Romans 14.
    1. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome.
      1. Some were Jewish people who were converted from backgrounds in Judaism.
      2. Some were not Jews who were converted from backgrounds of worshipping idols.
      3. Some probably were converted from backgrounds that held pretty dim personal views of the entire religious scene.
      4. Some converted Jews were certain they knew how God wanted things done.
      5. Some converted idol worshippers thought these Jewish Christians were ridiculous.
      6. Some had a hard time separating their background experiences of the past from their present conversion to Christ.
      7. Some clearly understood what God was doing in Christ.
      8. Some were spiritually weak.

    2. One thing that magnified their differences was eating meat that had been offered to an idol.
      1. Some Jewish Christians said Christians absolutely must not do that–such was an act of idolatry.
      2. Some converted idol worshippers said Christians absolutely could not do that–to eat such meat was an act of worship that honored a false God.
      3. Some stronger Christians with a correct understanding of what God did in Christ said it was unimportant.
        1. A Christian may eat any meat because he or she should understood that God created the animal.
        2. A Christian may eat any meat because he or she understands all food was made acceptable by Jesus’ death and prayer.
      4. As we still do today, they got into a big argument among Christians about who was right.
        1. Some argued spiritual safety said Christians should not eat any meat.
        2. Some argued that was too extreme: Christians just needed to be cautious and ask the right questions when they bought or ate meat.
        3. Some argued that both were concerned about matters that made no difference to God; if Christians properly understood Christ, they would not waste time and energy on such practices.

    3. “Paul, with the Christians in Rome arguing about sacred meals, what did you ask them to understand?” (Romans 14)
      1. “Understand the purpose of being a Christian is to accept other Christians [even weak ones], not to judge other Christians” (Romans 14:1).
        1. “In this matter of sacred meals, Christians, do not hold other Christians in contempt” (Romans 14:3).
        2. “In this matter of sacred meals, Christians, do not judge other Christians” (Romans 14:3).
        3. “You have no right to hold in contempt or judge a person God accepts” (Romans 14:3).
      2. “The Lord is the master, and he can make Christians stand even when they reach completely different conclusions regarding sacred meals” (Romans 14:4).
        1. “Every single one of you is a servant.”
        2. “Servants have no right to judge each other.”
        3. “Only a Master can judge a servant.”
        4. “A servant’s judgment is not the basis of another servant’s approval or rejection.”
        5. “That right of approval or rejection is reserved for the Master alone.”
      3. “God knows and understands why you do what you do” (Romans 14:5,6).
        1. “God knows actions that come from faith when He sees them.”
        2. “God knows actions that come from sincere consciences when He sees them.”
        3. “One Christian observes holy days to honor God.”
        4. “Another Christian does not observe holy days to honor God.”
        5. “One Christian eats no meat to honor God.”
        6. “Another Christian eats meat to honor God.”
        7. “The basic motivation of each Christian is the same, and God knows it.”
        8. “Do not oppose or discourage the Christian who honors God by acts of faith that come from his or her conscience.”
      4. “The focus is to be on the Lord, not on me and my standards” (Romans 14:7-9).
        1. “Our whole existence and our deaths are about the Lord, not about self.”
        2. “Our basic concern is not, ‘Are these Christians living up to my standards?'”
        3. “Our basic concern is calling the world to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not judging other Christians by our personal standards and conclusions.”
        4. “Spend your time advancing Jesus’ Lordship, not judging other Christians.”
      5. “Judging Christians is God’s business, and He can and will care for that matter far better than we can.”
        1. “Let God judge why Christians do or do not eat the sacred meal.”
        2. “Each one of us will explain to God not only our actions but our motivations.”

The fact that everyone of us is different does not distress God. If what we individually do honors God, if what we individually do expresses the faith that depends on God, if what we do praises God from a sincere conscience, God knows and understands exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it.

People in Jesus Christ who depend on God, who honor God, who praise God for what He does for us in Jesus Christ must respect each other. Every Christian needs the encouragement of the respect of other Christians.

The “No Consequence” Mentality–And Me

Posted by on under Sermons

The situation: Mom treasures an old vase that belonged to great-grandmother. It is the only thing she has that belonged to great-grandmother. It is not worth much, but it is of enormous personal value. She warned her son often not to touch the vase.

The happening: the son shatters the vase. It is broken into so many fragments that it could never be glued together.

The question: should the son endure consequences of his action? What form should those consequences take? How should Mom impose those consequences?

Before deciding if consequences should occur, the form of those consequences, and how to impose the consequences, there are other issues to settle.

How did the vase break? Was it an accident? Was it willful, deliberate disobedience? Or, was it one of those unusual, freak happenings?

Obviously, Mom is deeply upset. Should Mom express her anger and grief in the consequences? Or, should Mom assume the consequences?

If the son broke the vase by willfully, deliberately disobeying Mom, what should Mom do? Should her rage give her son a beating never to be forgotten? Should Mom wait until her feelings are under control before deciding the consequences? Should her son understand the “why” of the consequences?

It seems to me the two “bookend approaches” of Mom’s options are these. One “bookend” is the “no consequence” mentality. “Honey, it is my fault, not yours. I should have placed the vase out of your sight and reach.” The other “bookend” is to give him a whipping that he will never forget. A multitude of options lie between those “bookends,” and hopefully Mom’s wisdom will choose one of those options.

To me, in real terms, those “bookends” contrast our past society with our present society. In the past, a razor strap whipping was almost automatic. Some of you experienced that consequence. Today, “It is not your fault,” is a common approach.

  1. Every one of our personal worlds struggle with messes.
    1. In our fantasies, someone else’s life is ideal and has no problems.
      1. The truth: there are no ideal lives.
      2. The truth: everyone struggles in his or her personal life.
      3. The struggle between good and evil expresses itself in personal terms in all our lives.

    2. Nowhere is that struggle more real than in the consequences of behavior.
      1. The consequences of behavior is a complicated, complex reality.
      2. Sometimes we struggle because of consequences produced by our own behavior, even when we do not wish to admit it.
      3. Sometimes we struggle because of consequences produced by the behavior of those we love.
      4. Sometimes we struggle because of consequences produced by the behavior of people we do not even know.
      5. Sometimes we struggle because of consequences produced by behavior within our society.
      6. Sometimes we struggle because of consequences produced by behavior in our world.
      7. Most of our struggles are produced by a combination of these.
      8. The struggle between good and evil occurs in all those arenas, and all those struggles affect our personal lives.

    3. This is the truth: in the context of physical life and physical existence, we cannot eliminate bad consequences.
      1. Given our freedoms and opportunities, we can make choices that reduce the number and the effect of some bad consequences.
      2. However, the majority of the people in our world cannot make such choices.
        1. The majority of the world’s population have few opportunities or freedoms.
        2. The majority of the world’s population have little control over what happens in their personal worlds.
      3. Because evil is an ever present reality, bad consequences are a constant part of physical existence.

  2. I want to emphasize two simple truths about behavior and consequences by using Bible examples of two men.
    1. The first man was a godly man who thought through manipulation he could escape the consequences of his ungodly behavior. Consider Israel’s King David (2 Samuel 11-17).
      1. King David was truly a godly man who had an enormous heart for God.
        1. Once King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife.
          1. As a result of his “one night stand,” Bathsheba was pregnant.
          2. Uriah was a soldier in David’s army, and he was with the army fighting a battle.
          3. David thought he could hide his adultery by having Uriah come home and be with his wife.
          4. David’s plan failed, so he sent Uriah back to the army carrying orders for him to be placed in the front line in a way that assured his death.
        2. Uriah was killed in a battle; Bathsheba mourned for him the appropriate period; and David married her.
          1. David was certain he had hidden his adultery.
          2. He was certain there would be no consequences.
      2. Months later, after the child’s birth, the prophet Nathan confronted David.
        1. Not for one moment had all David’s evil acts been hidden from God’s eyes.
        2. The consequences were enormous: David suffered; Bathsheba suffered; the child died; and the resulting consequences within David’s family included rape, murder, and a determined effort by one of David’s sons to destroy him.
      3. Though David was a godly man, the consequences of his behavior were enormous.
        1. God forgave him.
        2. But forgiveness did not eliminate the consequences.

    2. The second man was a godly man whose bad consequences were not produced by his personal choices. Consider Daniel in the book of Daniel.
      1. For generations God warned the kingdom of Judah they would pay horrible consequences for their ungodliness and idolatry if they did not repent and return to Him.
        1. The people of Judah refused to repent and turn to God.
        2. After many warnings and a lot of patience, God allowed the people of Judah to suffer the consequences of their behavior.
      2. The consequences began by allowing the Babylonian empire to take control of the kingdom of Judah.
        1. The first to go into exile included young men from the finest families in Israel; young men from the royal family and the families of nobility; young men who were noted for intelligence, wisdom, and understanding.
        2. Among these young men was a young man named Daniel.
      3. Nothing indicates that Daniel went into Babylonian exile as a consequence of his own personal ungodliness.
        1. In fact, the book of Daniel documents the godly faith and godly behavior of this man.
        2. Yet, he was among the first to go into exile.
        3. He never saw his homeland again.
        4. He never walked the streets of Jerusalem again.
        5. He may never have seen his family again.
      4. Yet, he was a godly man in very ungodly circumstances who was committed to God. Once, early in his exile, Daniel praised God with these words:
        Daniel 2:20-23 “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”
      5. Daniel endured the consequences of evil produced by generations of rebelliousness committed before his birth.

    3. David and Daniel represent scary realities.
      1. It is impossible for us to hide anything we do from God.
      2. It is possible for us to endure bad consequences made necessary by the lives and decisions of other people.

  3. A loving God in the ultimate kindness we know as grace and mercy did something for us none of us could do for ourselves.
    1. We often say God sent us Jesus to die for our sins, but perhaps we have said that so long that we have forgotten what God did for us.
      1. Jesus declared what God was doing when he talked to Nicodemus:
        John 3:16-19 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
      2. Everyone, including Israel, was already perishing, but the loving God wanted to substitute eternal life for perishing.
        1. So the loving God sent Jesus to save the world, not condemn the world.
        2. Those who continue in faithlessness in Jesus are self-condemned.
        3. But those who place their faith in Jesus are removed from perishing.
        4. Placing our trust in what God did in Jesus removes us from condemnation.

    2. Why? What was it that God did in Jesus that destroys our condemnation?
      1. Many Bible statements tell us what God allowed to happen in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but two powerfully come to my mind.
        1 Peter 2:24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
        1. Jesus wore our sins, actually wore our sins, as he died on the cross.
        2. He did that to give us opportunities that did not exist.
          1. He did that to give us the opportunity to die to sin.
          2. He did that to give us the opportunity to live to righteousness.
        3. Because he was wounded for us, you and I can be healed.
          2 Corinthians 5:21 He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
        4. As Jesus died on the cross, God made Jesus sin for us.
        5. Why did God do that? So in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God.
      2. What God did for us in Jesus is too incredible to completely comprehend.
        1. As he wrote to Christians, John gave this explanation in 1 John 1:5-10.
        2. If as Christians we will do three things:
          1. Commit ourselves to living in God’s light;
          2. Live in fellowship with each other;
          3. Confess (to God) the sins we realize that we commit.
        3. God promises Christians to do the following:
          1. Use Jesus’ blood to cleanse (ongoing process) us from all sin.
          2. Forgive us of the sins we confess.
          3. Cleanse (ongoing process) us from all unrighteousness.
        4. Thus for the Christian every day of life begins brand new because God cleanses us in Jesus’ blood.

As long as we live on this earth there will be evil, and evil will produce consequences. But as long as we live on this earth, in Christ we can begin every day new in the cleansing only God can provide.

Why Would Anyone Want To Be Like God?

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

God’s nature is relevant to the present condition of our world. America’s world shook in ways we regarded unshakable. Amazingly, the fundamental issue moving our world to the brink of chaotic instability is not at all the issue Americans expected. If the fundamental issue dealt with economic suffering, power inequities, materialistic unconcern, social injustices, or racial bias, most Americans quickly could relate to the issue. Why not? Those problems shake life inside America.

But the basic issue is about God. That issue is far more basic than His correct name, the proper way to approach Him, or the proper way to worship Him. The “now” issue centers in God’s nature. Before September 11, God’s nature was a “none issue” here.

In America before September 11, can you guess the only place that discussed God’s nature? Sunday school classes? No. Wednesday night Bible classes? No. Sermons in church buildings? No. Bible studies with seekers? No. Anyone attempting meaningfully discussions of God’s nature in those contexts was B-O-R-I-N-G. “Killing” interest in a Christian study, class, or audience was guaranteed if one meaningfully discussed God’s nature. Then where? Theology classes in schools training preachers might guide in-depth studies of God’s nature. In other contexts, God’s nature is assumed. The prevailing conviction: “No one needs to understand God’s nature! Do what He says and get on with life!” [That assumes we can do what He asks without understanding Him.]

America is now at war. Our government carefully tries to keep this war from becoming a religious war between two worldwide belief systems. Why? The war is based on radically different understandings of God’s nature.

One system primarily believes God is a God of justice. God was deeply offended by unbelievable injustices. Because of injustices against God’s nature, hate appropriately expresses faith. Faith expressed through hate results in acts of terror. Believers’ vengeance against unbelievers appeases God’s anger.

One system primarily believes God is a God of redemption. God’s love was deeply wounded, but He uses mercy and grace to forgive. Through forgiveness, He teaches people to be forgiving. Repentance appropriately expresses faith. Faith expressed in repentance results in kindness.

Why should anyone want to be like God? If God is the source of hatred, and faith expresses itself in terror and vengeance, that is a good question. If God is the source of redemption, and faith expresses itself in kindness and repentance, the answer should be obvious.

Christian Community: The Meal Worship Crisis

Posted by on October 14, 2001 under Sermons

Last Sunday evening I emphasized a single fact, and I asked you to remember that one fact. I asked you to remember this fact: in both the Old Testament and New Testament world, people often worshipped by eating a meal. The faithful in Israel commonly worshipped by eating a meal. I called to your attention Israel’s Passover meal. I called to your attention Elkanah’s worship meal in 1 Samuel 1:1-5. I called to your attention the evil acts of the priest’s sons at worship meals in 1 Samuel 2:12-17.

Just as many of Israel’s animal sacrifices involved a worship meal, so did the animal sacrifices of those who worshipped idols.

A major crisis existed among many first century Christians because of the worship meal. Virtually all who were Christians worshipped before conversion by eating a meal. That was a common practice in many animal sacrifices for both Jews and those who worshipped idols. Virtually everyone converted to Christ was either a Jew or a person who worshipped an idol. Virtually everyone converted to Christ had worshipped by eating a meal.

Christians in Corinth lived in an idolatrous city. Many of those Christians worshipped idols prior to conversion. Becoming a Christian did not eliminate the influences of pagan practices in a convert’s every day life. City politics and idol worship were so intertwined it was impossible to separate them. Religion and state were very much joined together. Government simply did not function without the direct involvement of the gods. It was impossible to separate business and idol worship. Every business guild had a patron god or goddess. To assure that business went well, guild members honored that god or goddess. Guilds had much in common with today’s labor unions in some places. If you were not a member of the guild, you could not do business.

For first century Christians, the world of the Roman empire was in extreme contrast to the world of the American Christian. We can live in isolation. They could not. We can restrict our meaningful involvement and activities to association with other Christians. They could not. Their lives were affected by idolatrous practices every single day they lived.

  1. How should Christians live when they are surrounded by idolatrous influences?
    1. That was a huge question they had to answer–it simply could not be ignored.
      1. Different Christians had different answers for that question.
        1. Some had the attitude, “That is reality. Christ freed us, so we are free to live the way we choose doing as we wish.”
        2. Some had the attitude, “There are some things Christians can do and some things Christians cannot do.” Just as today, their opinions and past experiences often determined what could and could not be done.
        3. Some had the attitude, “You cannot do anything that has the appearance of honoring a false god.”
      2. Just like today, Christians had some serious arguments among themselves about what could and could not be done.
        1. Those arguments affected their fellowship.
        2. Those arguments affected their respect for each other.

    2. Few questions brought disagreements into conflict as quickly as did worship meals.
      1. Because all of them ate worship meals prior to becoming Christians, that practice raised enormous questions.
        1. When does a meal become an act of worship?
        2. If you eat meat that you know has been sacrificed to an idol, does eating the meat automatically make the meal a worship meal?
        3. If you do not know that the meat you eat was sacrificed to an idol, is it still a worship meal in spite of your ignorance?
        4. Should Christians be vegetarians just to be safe?
      2. There seemed to be two central issues:
        1. What makes a meal a worship meal?
        2. Does eating meat from an animal sacrificed to an idol honor that idol?
      3. To understand the difficulty of these questions, you must remember some facts.
        1. Fact one: everyone had the past experience of worshipping by eating sacrificial meat; from past experience, they understood such worship.
        2. Fact two: this was a common understanding from past experience: the act of eating the meat from a sacrifice honored the god (God) to whom the sacrifice was offered.

  2. Allow me to call your attention to two paragraphs found in a letter Paul wrote to Christians at Corinth. The two paragraphs are joined. The first paragraph is 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
    1. “You must understand that idolatry is spiritually destructive.”
      1. “A Christian must run from idolatry.”
        1. “Idolatry represents everything you seek to escape by being a Christian.”
        2. “Idolatry involves a false god and an ungodly lifestyle.”
      2. “You are wise enough to comprehend this, so listen to understand.”
        1. “When a Jew eats part of his sacrifice, it is worship offered to honor God.”
        2. “When an idol worshipper eats part of his sacrifice, it is worship to honor a god.”

    2. “Does that mean an idol is a real god? No!”
      1. “Sacrifices made to idols are sacrifices made to demons.”
      2. “A Christian cannot worship God and worship a demon.”
      3. “To knowingly attempt to do so insults God.”
      4. “You cannot take communion with Christians and make sacrifices to idols with people who are not Christians.”

    3. Some Christians did not agree with Paul’s instructions, and Paul knew it.
      1. In the city of Corinth people were free to live as they pleased.
      2. Additionally, Christians argued Christ did two things.
        1. He freed the Christian.
        2. His sanctification eliminated do’s and don’ts.
      3. Paul said freedom and sanctification were not the only legitimate concerns when considering a meat that came from a sacrifice to an idol.
        1. “Christ did set the Christian free.”
        2. “Christ did sanctify every food.”
        3. “God is the source of all food.”
        4. “But you must not forget that you are servants; when you do things that are spiritually destructive to other people, you are not serving God.”

  3. I call to your attention the second paragraph: 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.
    1. “When you buy meat from the meat market, buy the meat but do not ask questions.”
      1. The common supplier of meat for the meat market in most cities (outside of Palestine) were the temples dedicated to idols.
        1. Some Christians asked at the meat market, “Where did you get this meat?”
        2. They were shopping for meat for a meal.
        3. They were not preparing for a worship meal.
      2. Problem number one: meat sold at the city’s meat market.
        1. “Eat anything that is sold in the meat market.”
        2. “God is the creator.”
        3. “It all came from God.”
        4. “Eat the meat and give God the honor.”
      3. Problem number two: a person who is not in Christ invites you to a meal.
        1. First, when he obtains meat for his meal he will not ask where the meat came from–to him, it never matters.
        2. Whatever he serves, eat it.
        3. Do not ask questions; do not insult his hospitality.
      4. Problem number three: the host volunteers to you that the meat he is serving comes from a sacrifice offered to an idol.
        1. I do not understand this to be a confrontational statement but a sensitivity statement.
          1. The host knows the Christian holds different beliefs.
          2. The host does not want the Christian to unknowing eat something he would otherwise not eat.
          3. I regard the host’s information to be shared in kindness.
        2. Do not eat the meal.
          1. For his sake, do not eat the meal.
          2. For his conscience sake, do not eat the meal.
        3. Why? Why should a man’s conscience (who is not a Christian) determine what I eat?
          1. If I know God is the creator, why not eat?
          2. If I give thanks to God for the meat which He created, why not eat?
        4. Because if you eat, in that man’s conscience God will not be glorified.
          1. Christians do nothing that does not give God glory.
          2. Christians are God’s servants.
          3. Others honor God because of their actions and attitudes.
        5. If you eat, the host will lose respect for your God and you will lose influence for your God.
          1. “I will do nothing among Christians or among those who do not believe in Christ to make them think less of God.”
          2. “My objective never changes: cause more people to accept the salvation God presents in Christ.”

With far too many Christians, there are two huge spiritual questions. Question one: by what authority? Question two: is it right? This is the thinking: “If I can show that I have God’s authority for what I do, and if I can show that what I do is right, it is okay. What people think who are not Christians is irrelevant. What people who are Christians think is irrelevant. I can prove it is authorized and right, so its okay.”

Paul said those two questions are not the only relevant spiritual concerns. This same Paul answered both of those questions. He said that the meat came from the God who created it (1 Corinthians 10:26), so there is authority. He told the preacher Timothy (1 Timothy 4:3,4) to teach people they cannot eat meat is teaching the doctrines of demons. Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received by gratitude. That satisfies the “right” question.

But Paul told the Christians at Corinth more is involved. “We are God’s servants. There are two things I will never do as Christian. One, I will never knowingly be spiritually destructive to another Christian. Two, I will never knowingly cause a person who is not a Christian to think less of my God.”

As a Christian, are you a servant? Do you live with those objectives in mind?

“God, Why Did You Let That Happen?”

Posted by on under Sermons

An eight year-old boy loved taking risks. He especially got a thrill when he could combine climbing and risk-taking. More than once his father caught him in the act. Each time his father warned him of what could happen and the painful consequences that could result.

But the boy was eight years old. When you are eight years old, nothing really bad can happen. Anything can be fixed! So he continued to climb, and he increased risks. Oh, he was careful. Very careful! Very careful to see that his dad did not catch him.

One day he made his most daring climb, a climb higher than he had never attempted. He successfully made the climb, and his confidence soared. So…he took the greatest risk he had taken. Just when he was certain that he had accomplished his greatest stunt with no consequences, he slipped. In an instant that passed so fast that his mind could not grasp it, he was on the ground in great pain.

At first he could not catch his breath. The fall knocked his breath out of him. When he finally caught his breath, the pain began to scream. Both arms were broken. One was so severely broken that a bone pierced the skin. He landed so awkwardly that he also sprained both ankles. He lay in agony unable to move.

Later after surgery, he opened his eyes and saw his dad leaning over him. In a voice barely louder than a whisper, he said to his dad, “This is your fault! How could you let this happen to me?”

  1. This has been an unbelievable month!
    1. If in July anyone had prophesied accurately the events of September and early October, we would have declared the person crazy.
      1. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers?
      2. Almost 6,000 casualties?
      3. The Pentagon severely damaged with casualties?
      4. Anthrax?
      5. Military action in Afghanistan?

    2. I actually have heard people ask the question, “How can God let such things happen?
      1. What does that question mean? When people ask that question, what are they saying?
        1. Some are saying there is no God.
          1. If God existed, He would not allow things like that to happen.
          2. If there was a God, and if He was all powerful, He would use His power to stop horrible happenings.
        2. Some are saying that God exists, but all this is God’s fault.
          1. God has the power to stop such horrible things.
          2. When they happen, they happen because God did not use His power.
        3. Some are saying that they are confused.
          1. They do not understand how horrible happenings and God’s power fit together.
          2. They simply do not know what to think about what happened.
      2. This is the common thought in the question: some way, some how it is God’s fault.
        1. It is the idea that God will not allow bad things to happen to good people.
        2. It is the idea that God protects Christians from bad happenings.
      3. That is a very curious idea, a very confusing conclusion.
        1. We celebrate the fact that God allowed His son to die on a cross.
        2. We admire Stephen for being the first Christian martyr.
        3. We honor Paul for enduring suffering and execution.
        4. But we conclude that today God will not allow bad things to happen to good people.

  2. We find the reality of bad things happening to good people perplexing and confusing, but it is an old, old question.
    1. Before Christianity existed, Israelites asked the same question.
      1. It is the central question that stands as the heart of the book of Job.
        1. Job was the godliest man on earth.
        2. Job had horrible experiences.
        3. He did not understand how a godly person like himself could have such horrible things happen to him.
        4. His friends give him awful explanations of why he suffered.
      2. God revealed to Habbakuk the horrible consequences that Judah would experience.
        1. God warned Judah for the majority of 300 years, and Judah refused to turn their lives around.
        2. So God revealed to Habbakuk the consequences Judah would pay.
        3. Habbakuk was deeply shaken by God’s revelation.
        4. He even asked God, “Why are you silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they” (Habbakuk 1:13).
      3. Judah was extremely confident nothing bad could happen to them.
        1. They were God’s people.
        2. They had God’s temple sitting in God’s holy city.
        3. When God sent teachers like Habbakuk to tell them they needed to repent, they would cry, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4)
          1. What they meant was, “Nothing bad can happen to us!”
          2. “We have God’s temple, and God would not let anything bad happen to His temple!”
          3. But the temple of the Lord was destroyed, and they were conquered by the Babylonians.

    2. In the last fifty years, we created a huge lie by believing our society should exist without consequences.
      1. We created and we live by a “no responsibility” mentality.
        1. Years ago we began to learn the factors that contribute to specific problems in human behavior, and that is good.
        2. Years ago we began to learn the many ways we are influenced as we develop, and that is good.
      2. But we took good understandings and used them for bad purposes.
        1. We should have taken those understandings and used them to become more responsible people.
        2. Instead, we allowed those understanding to deceive us. Now we believe we are not responsible for who we are or what we do.
      3. Now we live in a society that believes:
        1. No matter what happens, someone else must be blamed; it is always someone else’s fault.
        2. We should be protected from all forms of liability.
          1. We should be protected from bad food regardless of how we eat.
          2. We should be protected from medicine’s side effects.
          3. No matter how we use any product we buy, we should be protected from harm.

  3. Since we live in a no consequence nation and a no consequence society, we need a no consequence God.
    1. So we declare there should be no spiritual or moral consequences to any form of human behavior.
      1. We can live in any way we please.
      2. People can be as immoral and irresponsible as they wish.
      3. The world can be as unjust as it chooses to be.
      4. Greed can rule the hearts of the majority.
      5. People world wide can hate as much as they want to hate.
      6. Selfish pleasure can drive people to use and abuse other people.

    2. BUT…God is responsible to see that nothing bad happens.
      1. No matter how we behave, God is responsible to see that there are no consequences.
      2. No matter what emotions govern our lives, God is responsible to see there are no consequences.
      3. No matter how selfish, or greedy, or unfair, or abusive, or unjust, or pleasure centered, or materialistic, or morally irresponsible we are, God is responsible to see there are no consequences.

  4. I am not so stupid or arrogant as to think that I have THE answer to horrible consequences falling on good people, but I do have some thoughts I want you to consider.
    1. At some point in our existence, we must realize that evil produces consequences.
      1. The first great deceit declared by evil is this: there are no consequences.
      2. The second great deceit declared by evil is this: if by accident some consequences occur, they will be small.
      3. The third great deceit declared by evil is this: if by accident some consequences occur, it will always be someone else’s fault.
      4. All three of those declarations are lies.
      5. Evil and consequences go together.
        1. Sometimes consequences are immediate: doing evil instantly creates problems.
        2. Often consequences are unintended: “I did not mean for that to happen.”
        3. Sometimes consequences are progressive: things go from bad to worse.
        4. Sometimes consequences are long term: it is possible for involvement in evil to set in motion events that will hurt lives for generations.

    2. At some point we must realize that being free moral agents means we have responsibilities.
      1. We rejoice in the fact that God created us a persons of choice–that is what we mean by being free moral agents.
        1. Everyone of us has a right to choose.
        2. Everyone of us can choose.
        3. Everyone of us can be as evil as we choose to be or as godly as we choose to be.
      2. However, we must realize that responsibility is the price we pay for being free to choose.
        1. No matter what factors contribute to my problems, I must choose.
        2. The choices I make are my responsibility.

    3. At some point we must wake up to this fact: “God did not do that; wicked people did that.”
      1. If a drunk driver kills someone in my family, God did not make the driver drunk.
      2. If someone in my family is raped, God did not fill the rapist with hate or make him a slave to his passions.
      3. If I suffer because of someone else’s greed and injustice, God did not fill that person with greed and selfishness.
      4. Satan did, but God did not.

The cry of our nation cannot be, “God, leave us alone; let us live as we please; but do not let anything bad happen.” The cry of Christians cannot be, “‘God leave us alone; let us live as we please; but do not let anything bad happen.”

The tragedy: we do not know evil when we see it. So we invite the consequences of evil into our lives and never realize what we are doing.

Hundreds of years ago Isaiah wrote these words to people who made our same mistake for the same reasons:
Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Only God can show us how to recognize good, see the light, and understand the true distinction between sweet and bitter.

I Notice!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

Few experiences discourage anyone as much as being taken for granted. Few experiences energize anyone as powerfully as appreciation. That is the voice of experience. Occasions that deeply discouraged me invariably come when I feel taken for granted. Times when I am powerfully energized invariably come when I know I am appreciated. Is not that the way your “motivation system” works?

In these inner feelings I doubt you and I are different. If you are a Christian servant, you feel deeply discouraged when you feel “taken for granted.” You also feel powerfully energized when you feel appreciated.

Please forgive me for not saying “thank you” as often as I should–which should be constantly! I see so many things done to bless and encourage. I notice quiet, considerate acts of unselfish service. Because of my work, I am privileged to witness many things others never have opportunity to see.

I give special thanks to all who make our fellowship occasions reality on fourth or fifth Sunday evenings. Much “thankless” work make those times a reality. Special thanks to all who helped this fifth Sunday evening. Sickness required some key people to be elsewhere that evening. Volunteers promptly filled the gaps. Perhaps “thank yous” were not as generous as deserved. I noticed, and I thank you.

Last Sunday morning many of the adult classes began new studies. Those adult classes will study Climbing On The Altar, a careful examination of Romans 12:1 through 15:13. I encourage you to be part of a class each Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.

We do not conduct these studies to honor a tradition or perpetuate a habit. Attendance is not a church thing “that has always been practiced.” Classes meet and study to encourage individual Christians as they develop a committed, in-depth relationship with God. We learn godly principles, values, and standards that will help us be godly people in all our relationships.

We want to study Bible material that helps you be a godly person in your real world. This Sunday please complete an anonymous, brief input survey of only three questions:

  1. On a scale of 1-10 circle how you rate the Bible class material that we’ve been studying throughout 2000-2001. (10 being the best) Why do you feel this way?
  2. What subject(s) would you like to study that would best help you to grow in your relationship with the Father?
  3. Suggestions that you think will help our Adult Education Ministry at West-Ark.

Think about the questions. Fill in a survey form. Give the completed form to your teacher or place it in the box in the foyer. We want to encourage you to be a godly person in trying times.

Christian Community: When They Ate To Worship

Posted by on October 7, 2001 under Sermons

I want to explain what I plan to do for the next few Sunday nights. I will use both Old Testament and New Testament scriptures to increase our understanding of a first century problem among those Christians. First, I will build some background from the Bible. Second, I will focus your attention on the New Testament’s declaration of the problem. Third, I will call your attention to God’s solution to the problem. If we understand the problem and God’s solution, that understanding should change the way Christians treat each other. That understanding should increase our patience and kindness toward each other.

Allow me to begin by focusing your attention and challenging you to think. Frequently, as individuals, all of us encounter a major spiritual problem. Spiritually and religiously, sometimes we learn information from scripture that contradicts what we were told scripture taught. Every time that happens, we face an important decision. Some times those decisions create huge personal crises.

Let me give you a specific example. Back in the 1950s it was popular to preach against smoking tobacco. Articles were written, tracts were written, and sermons were preached about the wickedness of smoking. Many arguments were made against the evils of smoking. The most common argument from scripture made was this: “If you smoke, you destroy your body. If you destroy your body, God promises that He will destroy you.” The conclusion was simple: if a person smokes, produces health problems, and dies as a result of those health problems, God will destroy that person in hell.

The proof text scripture used to “prove” this conclusion was 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. That scripture reads:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

But using that scripture to condemn smoking tobacco creates a huge problem. This scripture is not concerned about smoking tobacco or any problem similar to smoking tobacco. This statement was written by Paul about the internal division within the congregation at Corinth. In context, the temple of God in this scripture is the congregation at Corinth. “You, the congregation at Corinth, should realize that you collectively are God’s temple.” Paul told them that allowing internal division to destroy the congregation guaranteed God’s wrath. If they allowed internal division promoted by maintaining differing loyalties to destroy the congregation, God would destroy them.

I do not smoke. I do not think smoking advances God’s purposes in my life. I am not advocating smoking. My point is simple: this scripture has nothing to do with smoking tobacco. It concerns internal division in a congregation. It is not about an individual Christian’s physical body. In this scripture, the temple is the congregation at Corinth, not a human body. In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul does call the individual Christian’s body God’s temple, but not in 1 Corinthians 3:16,17. We cannot “rightly divide the word of truth” and force 1 Corinthians 3:16,17 to say something Paul did not say.

When I understand that, I have a choice to make. (1) I can maintain my ignorance and defend my ignorance by strongly affirming my ignorance is the truth. (2) I can use my ignorance to draw conclusions from uninformed speculation. Example: “Smoking involves no moral issues!” (3) I can acknowledge my ignorance and resolve to become better informed. (4) I can dedicate myself to better understanding God’s will and purposes regardless of where He leads me.

We can talk all we wish about being Christ’s church and being dedicated to God’s will. But this is the truth of the matter: it is demanding and difficult to open our minds and hearts to valid, in context information from scripture when that information contradicts what we were taught and we accepted. That is demanding and hard for every single one of us. All of us have a desire to force scripture to support what we believe. No one wants scripture to radically change our understandings.

  1. This evening, I want you to see and understand one fact from scripture. I want you to develop a single awareness.
    1. Though this fact is obvious in scripture, it is likely you read right past it.
      1. Bible students, you read over it, by it, and through it a thousand times and likely never pay any attention to it.
      2. There is a reason few pay any attention to it: this fact seems so strange to us, it seems so foreign to us, we simply do not think about it.
      3. Yet, as strange as it seems to us, it was not at all strange to people in Old Testament Israel or Old Testament idolatry, and it was not at all strange to people in New Testament Israel or New Testament idolatry.

    2. When I say “worship,” what do you automatically think?
      1. The word “worship” does not bring the same understandings and images to all of us.
        1. Some hear the word “worship” and immediately think of “correct forms.”
          1. Worship occurs if the forms are correct.
          2. Not matter what is in a person’s heart, if the forms are not correct there is no worship.
        2. Some hear the word “worship” and immediately think of what we commonly call the five acts of worship: singing, praying, preaching, communion, and giving.
          1. Worship is a matter of procedure.
          2. If the correct things are done, worship occurs.
        3. Some hear the word “worship” and immediately think of the glorification of God.
          1. If the right forms are observed but there is no deliberate, conscious glorification of God, worship does not occur.
          2. If the right procedures occur but there is not deliberate, conscious glorification of God, worship does not occur.
        4. Those are not the only three things that Christians immediately think about when they hear the word “worship,” but those are three very common things.

    3. No matter what we specifically think when we hear “worship,” we all regard singing, praying, and communion [when each comes from our understanding and hearts] as expressions of worship.
      1. I think I can be reasonably certain that none of us think of eating a meal as an expression of worship.
        1. That is so foreign to our experience or our practices or our approved expressions of worship, that eating a meal as an act of worship never enters our minds.
        2. It is so foreign to our thinking and our experiences that we would say that anyone who considers eating a meal an act of worship misses the whole point of worship.
      2. Yet, scripture confirms, without doubt, that the most significant occasions of worship in Israel [and in any form of sacrificial worship] involved eating a meal.
        1. That was true in Israel in the Old and New Testaments.
        2. That was true in most forms of idolatry in the Old and New Testaments.
        3. The vast majority of people who became Christians in the New Testament were converted from religions that ate meals as expressions of worship on some of the most significant occasions of worship.
        4. Christians in the New Testament knew the experience of worship by eating a meal.

  2. By now some of you are saying to yourselves, “David is nuts! Why is he talking about this? Where in the world is he going?”
    1. It is okay for you to think I am nuts; all I ask you to do is to think with me.
      1. What you may consider crazy right now may prove to be very important.
      2. I just ask you to follow me until I can show you from scripture the importance.

    2. Let me begin by asking you something many of you know and understand.
      1. In Israel what was Passover?
        1. It was, and to the orthodox Jew still is, the most important religious day in the history of the nation of Israel.
        2. It commemorates the day when God released the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt.
        3. The very first time the nation of Israel observed this special day was the night they left Egypt.
      2. By God’s instruction, what did they do? (Exodus 12)
        1. Every family killed a lamb; small families combined and killed a lamb.
          1. The lamb was to be the best lamb they owned.
          2. The lamb’s blood was smeared on the outside of the door frame.
          3. The lamb was roasted over the fire without dressing the lamb.
        2. With the roasted lamb as the center of a meal, they were to prepare a meal, eat it as they were fully dressed and be prepared to leave.
          1. That night they were to eat the roasted lamb with bitter vegetables and bread that had no yeast in it.
          2. The only way the lamb was to be cooked was by roasting.
          3. What they did not eat at that meal they were to destroy by burning.
      3. Listen to Exodus 12:14
        Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
        1. Passover was the most important day and act of worship in Israel.
        2. Passover still is the most important day and act of worship among orthodox Jews.
        3. And how do you observe the occasion of Passover? How do you honor and glorify God on this most important occasion of worship of the year?
        4. One of the things you did, and many still do: you ate a meal.
        5. By eating the meal you glorified God for what He did in delivering Israel, and you recommit yourself to dependence on God.

  3. Most of us are not at all familiar with sacrificial worship that included sacrificing an animal.
    1. That kind of worship is foreign to our culture and foreign to our personal experience.
      1. We are far more likely to associate animal sacrifice with witchcraft than with worshipping God.
      2. Many of us have little idea of what all was involved in worshipping God through animal sacrifice.

    2. Not in all animal sacrifices, but in some animal sacrifices, the person who provided the animal to the priests for sacrifice ate part of the meat.
      1. What occurred when the animal was killed? Worship.
      2. What occurred when the man who offered the sacrifice ate the meat as a meal with his family? Worship.
      3. Consider a specific example found in 1 Samuel 1:1-5.
        1. Each year Elkanah took his family which included two wives to Shiloh for sacrificial worship. [Shiloh was the location of the tabernacle at this time.]
        2. After he offered his sacrifice, he gave portions of the meat to his family for the sacrificial meal.
        3. To Hannah, the wife who had no children, he gave a double portion of the meat from the sacrifice.
        4. At Shiloh immediately after the killing of the animal, the families who came for sacrificial worship prepared and ate a meal.
      4. Consider a second example found in 1 Samuel 2:12-17.
        1. Sacrificing a animal as an act of worship in Israel required the priests who offered the sacrifices to perform specific procedures.
        2. After the sacrifice was offered, and after those who brought animals were cooking the meat for their sacrificial meal, this was the custom: the priests walked among the people who were cooking their meat by boiling it, thrust a three pronged fork in the cooking vessel, and whatever stayed on the fork belonged to the priests.
        3. The priest, Eli, has some sons who assisted him, and they were worthless, evil men.
          1. They told those who offered a sacrifice, “We want you to give us meat before you boil it. We want roasted meat, not boiled meat. We want our meat before Eli performs his procedures.”
          2. “If you do not give us what we ask for, we will take it by force.”
        4. Notice a part of the worship involved a meal.

    3. Eating a meal as an act of worship was common among those who offered sacrificial worship, both in Israel and among idol worshippers.
      1. That was common in the Old Testament world, and it was common in the New Testament world.
      2. Most Christians tend to think that people have always worshipped in ways that were very similar to our acts of worship.
        1. Not so.
        2. In fact, to the Christians of the New Testament, worshipping without offering an animal sacrifice on special days was strange.
        3. Worshipping when there was no sacrificial meal to eat on special holy occasions was strange.
        4. Eating a meal as an act of worship was a practice hundreds of years old, and prior to becoming Christians, most of them had that experience.

The one fact I want you to remember is this: there was a time when worship included eating a meal.

If we are Christians, we have a sacrifice. Jesus Christ is our sacrifice. He was offered one time for everyone (Hebrews 10:10).

Do You Like Surprises?

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Do you like surprises? That is not a yes or no question for any of us. It depends on the surprise. Some surprises are wonderful. Some surprises are horrible. If a surprise brings a person joy and delight, he or she loves the surprise. If a surprise brings a person sadness and shock, he or she hates the surprise.

Surprises use the unexpected. If you expect it, it cannot be a surprise. “Surprise” is an important tactic in modern warfare. When your objective is to destroy an enemy in modern warfare, you value the “element of surprise.” So in modern warfare we use the “surprise attack.” What is the “element of surprise”? What is the “surprise attack”? It is the element of astonishing. It is to attack when the enemy is unaware of danger.

We have been blessed to live through years of peace and times of peace. In times of peace we do not need wartime words. So we gave some of those words peaceable meanings. We developed “pleasant surprises.” “Pleasant surprises” have the same objective of astonishing and catching unaware, but the result is wonderful, not destructive.

As an example, consider the “surprise birthday party.” That astounding, unexpected event is wonderful–unless it is your fiftieth birthday! The first surprise birthday party I attended after moving to Fort Smith was for Jack Lowry. Boy, did his friends put the word surprise in that party! It was really a surprise! The party occurred at midnight at the close of his birthday. A son called and told him he had car trouble. He sat up and came outside. The party began with a candle light vigil on his lawn. Oh, the joys of Jack’s surprise birthday party! Maybe surprise birthday parties and war do have something in common.

  1. I want you to note something stated very obviously by Jesus.
    1. When talking about the judgment, Jesus deliberately combined the concept of surprise and the concept of eternal accountability.
      1. And your immediate response is, “Of course he did! We clearly understand that the judgment will be an occasion of huge surprise for a lot of people!”
      2. What do you mean by that statement?
        1. “Well, we will not be surprised because we know what to expect and are prepared.”
        2. “Many people think they know what to expect and think they are prepared.”
        3. “But they do not know and are not prepared, and they are in for a huge shock.”
        4. Consider some statements Jesus made about judgment that may challenge your conclusion.

    2. Likely Jesus’ most familiar statement about the judgment is found in Matthew 25:31-46 when he discussed the final gathering of the nations.
      1. Jesus talked about the scene at the judgment and declared there would be a great separation of peoples or nations.
      2. I call two obvious teachings to your attention.
        1. First, people did not know their sentence until the Lord declared it.
          1. Those on his right were welcomed to the inheritance God prepared for them from the moment the world began.
            1. He said they were receiving this inheritance because they were kind, helpful, and thoughtful to him in times of need.
            2. And they were surprised. And in their amazement they asked, “When did we do any of these things for you?”
            3. And he said, “When you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it for me.”
          2. In the same manner, those on the left were condemned and rejected because they ignored him in his need.
            1. And they were surprised. They said they never neglected him.
            2. But he said they neglected him when they neglected the least.
        2. Second, carefully note that everyone was surprised.
          1. Those receiving the inheritance were surprised.
          2. Those condemned were surprised.

    3. I call to your attention a second statement Jesus made about the judgment in Matthew 7:21-23.
      1. Jesus said when that day comes, he will not know all the people who call him Lord.
      2. In judgment, there will be people who say to him, “We did Jesus’ things in Jesus’ name.”
        1. “We belong to you! We can prove it!”
        2. “You prophesied; we prophesied.”
        3. “You cast out demons; we cast out demons.”
        4. “You did miracles; we did miracles.”
      3. “We not only did the things you did, but we also did those things by your authority.”
        1. “We did them in your name.”
        2. “We gave you credit.”
      4. Jesus will respond by saying, “I never have known you. Get away from me. Your lives were dedicated to lawlessness; they were not dedicated to me.”
      5. They expected acceptance; they received rejection; and they were surprised.

    4. I call to your attention a third statement Jesus made about the judgment in Matthew 12:38-42.
      1. Some significant Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, said, “Show us some evidence that what you are saying comes from God.”
        1. Jesus said, “Your desire for evidence comes from evil motives, not godly motives.”
        2. “You have evidence from events in scripture; I will not give you any more.”
        3. “The people of Nineveh, Assyria, will tell you in the judgment, ‘We repented, and Jonah did not care about us. Jesus cared about you.'”
        4. “The Queen of the South will tell you in judgment, ‘I traveled a long way to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and you had someone greater than Solomon to hear.'”
      2. When people hear these things in judgment, can you see the shock, the amazement, the surprise?

    5. I call your attention to a fourth statement Jesus made about the judgment in Luke 10:10-14.
      1. This statement was made in Jesus’ charge to seventy men he sent out in pairs to prepare cities and towns for his coming visits.
      2. He gave these men specific instructions about what to do if a town or city rejected them.
      3. Then Jesus made some amazing statements.
        1. He named some cities which were the symbols of evil, wicked places like Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon.
        2. To Jesus the Jewish communities of Chorizin and Bethsaida symbolized faithlessness (Matthew 11:20-22).
          1. He performed miracles in those cities in an effort to move them to repent.
          2. But they refused to repent.
        3. In the judgment the wicked cities will not receive as much harshness as cities that had great opportunity but no faith.
      4. Can you imagine their shock, their surprise?

  2. We will not and cannot grasp the significance of Jesus’ judgment statements unless we understand Jesus’ audiences.
    1. Jesus spoke to Jewish people who considered themselves the upstanding people of God.
      1. Jesus seemed to have made the Matthew 25 statement about the judgment on the mount of Olives while teaching his disciples (Matthew 24:3).
      2. Jesus’ Matthew 7 statement is a part of the sermon on the mount spoken to a large crowd of disciples.
      3. Jesus’ Matthew 12 statement was made to questioning scribes and Pharisees.
      4. Jesus’ Luke 10 statement was made to seventy disciples as Jesus prepared to send them out in pairs.

    2. Jesus made his judgment statements about people who were certain they had the advantage in the judgment.
      1. They were God’s people.
      2. God had chosen them.
      3. They had scripture and the prophets.
      4. They knew the right way to worship God.
      5. According to them, they had the right credentials for the judgment.

    3. The parallel is frightening. Look at the way we think about ourselves.
      1. We are God’s people.
      2. We are the church that Christ built.
      3. We understand the intent and meaning of scripture.
      4. We understand the right way to worship God.
      5. According to us, we have the right credentials.

  3. Regardless of what happens to each of us in judgment–good or bad–Jesus said we will be surprised.
    1. If we are among the saved, the reasons we are accepted will surprise us.
    2. If we are among the lost, the reasons we are rejected will surprise us.
    3. There may be those who shout at us, “If your opportunities had been our opportunities, we would not be among the rejected!”
    4. Perhaps the condemnation of some of us will be harsher than people we consider wicked.

  4. Jesus stressed that both he and God place enormous importance on doing good in the way we treat other people.
    1. Our conditioned, gut response to that statement is: “No, no, no! God’s emphasis is on what you know, what you do in worship, on having the right theology. Being godly is not about doing good to people, but about being obedient to the commandments we declare to be important.”
      1. Think with me a moment.
      2. No one on earth has ever known as much about God as Jesus did.
      3. No one on earth has ever understood God as completely as Jesus did.
      4. No one on earth has ever grasped God’s will as perfectly as Jesus did.
      5. No one on earth has had exactly God’s correct balance in life as Jesus did.
      6. In any way, in any subject, in any consideration, the God-Jesus relationship was superior than any other God-human relationship.
      7. Jesus truly understood what God is about and what God wants.

    2. Stated in another way, as a human, Jesus reflected God perfectly.
      1. In his attitudes, he perfectly reflected God.
      2. In his spirit, he perfectly reflected God.
      3. In his priorities, he perfectly reflected God.
      4. In his values, he perfectly reflected God.
      5. In his focus and his deeds, he perfectly reflected God.

    3. When Peter discussed Jesus with Cornelius, Peter made this statement:
      Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

You have influence every day of your life in every relationship of your life. Jesus wants you to be light in a world of darkness and salt in a world that is decaying. Use your influence! Be like Jesus! Each day of your life, do good! Do good to your family! Do good to your neighbors! Do good to the people you go to school with! Do good to the people you work with! It is belonging to God through Jesus Christ to do good that will cause you to stand in judgment.

In judgment, it will surprise you when you realize how important doing good to “the least of these” is to God and Jesus Christ. Why? When you do good to “the least of people” you do good to Jesus. And God pays special attention to how you treat his son.